07/27/2007 11:00PM

Black Ruby, 15, makes season debut

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. - The legendary mule Black Ruby returns to the track Monday at the Sonoma County Fair.

The most popular racer on the Northern California fair circuit, Black Ruby, 15, goes in a 350-yard race against eight rivals. She is also scheduled to race once at the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale.

`"We've been taking good care of her all winter and spring, and she looks good,`" said owner Mary McPherson, who keeps Black Ruby on a special diet.

A winner of 58 races and $234,629, Black Ruby is eligible to race one more year at age 16 if she can finish first, second, or third in a race this year. She ran only twice last year at Ferndale, finishing second and third.

McPherson concedes that Monday's race can be considered a prep for Ferndale.

Black Ruby worked quickly on Friday, covering 330 yards in 20.85 seconds.

"We're hoping for the best," McPherson said. "This will give her a racing edge."

"When she goes in the Hall of Fame, we'd like it to be said of her that she ran competitively her entire career," he added. "We wouldn't be racing her if she weren't in good condition.`"

Black Ruby, trained by Sandy Comontofski, and ridden by Sergio Ruiz, is in a tough spot Monday. Among her rivals are Ghengis Khan, who beat her both times at Ferndale last year, and talented 4-year-olds Out Of My League, a multiple stakes winner in his first year of racing as a 3-year-old last year, and Idaho Gem.

While the spotlight will be on Black Ruby, Monday's feature race for Thoroughbreds has six sprinters going five furlongs on the turf in a $32,000 claimer.

Multiple stakes winner Flying Supercon makes his first start since Jan. 6, but comes into the race with a solid series of works at Pleasanton. Rush Country, another talented comebacker with 2 wins, 1 second and 1 third in 5 tries at the distance, will make his first start since Oct. 20.

Lead Stealer brings a three-race win streak into the race and Aggressive has won two straight. Crayon Red and Left 'Em Burning both have wins at the distance on turf.

Flying Supercon appears to be the one to catch with his ability to run 44-second half-miles. Lead Stealer, who just won a $25,000 optional claimer after being claimed in his previous start, could be the one to hold off late.